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Medicine Cabinet Clean-Out

Health, Environment on the Line with Medicine Cabinet Clean-Out

Properly disposing of items from places like your fridge or garage is important, but perhaps no spot in your home has quite the potential impact on human health as that of your medicine cabinet.

The same personal hygiene products and medications that keep us clean and healthy pose a real threat to the environment and even other people if tossed away haphazardly.

Heed these tips and keep your cabinet clean and healthy.


Unused medications pose two major threats to human and environmental health. While they’re still intact in a bottle in a medicine cabinet or elsewhere, pharmaceuticals are susceptible to be abused or, for children or pets, can contribute to accidental poisoning.

If these unused medications are tossed in the trash or improperly flushed down drains or toilets, they can find their way into natural and man-made waterways and have adverse effects on fragile underwater ecosystems. Many water treatment plants are ill-equipped to handle some medicine.

The FDA does recommend flushing a select few medications down the toilet, due to the dangers of accidental exposure to or ingestion by someone other than the person prescribed the drugs, but seeking out a medication recycling location or program is the best bet.

Many municipal hazardous waste drop-off or pickup programs will handle unwanted medications. All CVS stores now recycle unwanted medication, too. Find your own local options.

Empty medication bottles are usually No. 5 plastic, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are recyclable, according to Consumer Reports. The bottles’ small size can make it difficult for automated recycling processes used by many municipalities to properly sort them. Luckily, many of the same programs that collect unused medications for disposal also process bottles for reuse or recycling.

Toothpaste Tubes

The merits and potential detrimental health effects of fluoride, the most controversial ingredient in many toothpastes, are debated greatly.

What isn’t up for argument, though, is just how how tricky it seems to recycle spent toothpaste tubes. They’re usually made of plastic No. 4, aluminum or a combination of both. And they’re darn near impossible to clean yourself (cleaning being a necessary step in almost any recycling process).

Fortunately, at least one recycling program renders the cleaning process moot. Terracycle’s Colgate Oral Care Brigade accepts toothpaste tubes, plus toothbrushes, mouthwash containers and spent dental floss packaging by mail. All these materials are shredded, washed, then pelletized for use in other products.

Check to see if other local toothpaste tube recycling options exist.


The challenges and process of recycling spent deodorant tubes are quite similar to that of toothpaste tubes.

The type of plastic used in these products varies a bit more — Nos. 2, 4 and 5 are all used in different brands’ packaging — but the same issue of residue persists. As such, they’re also fully shredded and washed in the course of the recycling process.

Last year, Unilever launched a deodorant stick recycling program.

Terracycle also has a hand in recycling the tubes through the Tom’s of Maine Natural Care Brigade initiative, so deodorant tubes and soap containers from any brand can be mailed in to be recycled.

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